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a deeply annoying child

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Jon is hiding under the desk. It’s- not the best plan, really. But, even if Mr. Spider got Alex, he might not be able to get Jon, if he’s hiding. The desk is facing away from the door, so no-one can see him, tucked under in the place where adult’s legs go. It smells like dust and feet and dark wood.

He doesn’t know whose office this is. He doesn’t know how he got here, just that one second he was on the pavement, watching the door close behind Alex, and the next he was here. And then he hid under the desk.

He props his chin up on his knees, and winces as the shift in position twists the cut in his shin. He can feel a line of blood trickling down his leg.

There’s a knock on the door, and Jon freezes. It’s three knocks, fast, not like the slow ones in the book, but it’s still a knock, and the door makes a long creak as it opens, a bit like-

“Boss?” he hears someone say. “Got those files you wanted.” It’s a man, and he sounds angry. Mr. Spider doesn’t talk. Jon thinks he doesn’t talk. Jon presses his shoulders against the hard wood, heart in his throat.

“Huh,” the man says. “Guess he’s buggered off.” There’s a slapping sound against the top of the desk, papers sliding against the surface. Something falls, with a thump.

“What…” The man says, trailing off. “Feel Like Your First Time?” he says, laughing. “Jesus, didn’t know he was this much of a-“ A page turns, and the man stops talking suddenly. “Shit,” he says, and the book snaps shut, then there’s a thud against the wall behind the desk.

Jon flinches at the sound, yelping, then he suddenly remembers he has to be quiet and claps a hand over his mouth. It’s too late.

“Hello?” he says. “Anyone in here?” Footsteps come around the desk. Jon presses backwards more, but he’s trapped, he can’t leave, and this was a bad idea, the worst- The chair in front of Jon gets pushed aside, and he can see a pair of trainers and dark jeans. They bend, and a t-shirt comes into view, and then there’s the man’s face, round divots all over it like bad spots. “Well, hi,” he says.

“Go away,” Jon tells him, pulling his legs tighter against his chest. “I’ll- I’ll call the police, I will.”

One of the man’s eyebrows goes up. “You got a phone under there?”

Jon doesn’t have a phone. “I-“ he says, “I-“

“Relax, kid,” the man says, shifting so he’s sitting against the wall, instead of kneeling. “There’s a police lady outside, if you want to snitch. I’m Tim. What’s your name?”

Jon gives him a look. “I’m not going to tell a stranger my name,” he says. He’s not stupid.

Tim, if that’s his real name, raises his hands in surrender, a smile playing about his lips. “Damn, my evil plans, foiled. Shall I go and get Basira? The police lady?”

Jon doesn’t say anything, but he glares. Tim pushes to his feet, throwing Jon a wink, and says “Be right back.” Then he walks away.

Once he’s gone, Jon crawls forward, out from under the desk. Another trickle of blood runs down his leg. It hurts, but he’s not a baby, so he doesn’t make any noise. It’s not a good hiding place. He could get trapped there.

The office all seems very big, and very messy. Papers are everywhere, in brown folders. There’s a sofa in the corner covered in them, next to an overflowing filing cabinet. Jon’s leg hurts. He looks at the desk chair, but it’s a bit too high for him to get on it easily.

There are voices outside the office, too muffled for him to make out the words. The door opens again, and a stern-looking woman comes in, her head wrapped up in a neatly pinned scarf.

“Hello,” she says, smiling tightly. “I’m DI Basira Hussain. Can you tell me how you got in here?”

Jon crosses his arms. “Can I see your police badge, please?” he asks, sticking his chin up.

Officer Hussain’s smile gets even tighter. “Sure,” she says, and reaches into her pocket. The badge she shows him looks like a police badge. It says BASIRA HUSSAIN. There’s a little picture of her.

Jon relaxes. “I’m Jonathan Sims,” he tells her, “I live at 23 Church Street, in Bournemouth. Can you take me home? My grandmother will be worried about me.”

Officer Hussain’s eyebrows shoot up. She looks him up and down. “Jonathan Sims,” she says. “You... sure?”

“Yeah” Jon says, giving her a you’re-stupid look. “I know what my own name is.”

Officer Hussain purses her lips. “Well, shit,” she says, and Jon wrinkles his nose. Swearing is a sign of a narrow mind, that’s what his grandmother always says. Officer Hussain opens the door, calling into the corridor, “Kid says he’s Jon.”

“What?” Tim says outside.

“Oh my god,” someone else says, gleeful.

Suddenly there are people crowding into the doorway. Tim’s there, at the front, pushing into the room. Behind him there’s a big man in a knitted jumper, and a lady with colourful hair. The lady takes one look at him and starts cackling, leaning against the doorframe. The man in the jumper just stares, frozen in place.

“He’s so small,” the laughing lady croons, and Jon glares at her.

“I’m not small,” he tells her. “I’m average for my age.” She just laughs harder. The man with the jumper is smiling too, though he has his hands over his mouth to hide it. “I’m not,” Jon insists, because he isn’t small, when you think about it properly.

“Alright, kid, we get it,” Tim says. He glances at Officer Hussain. “Think that Leitner has something to do with this?”

Leitner. The name sends a jolt down Jon’s spine.

Officer Hussain shrugs. “Don’t see anything else spooky around. Hey, Jon,” she says, turning back to him. “You remember getting in here?”

Jon wets his lips, eyes darting between the adults. “I…” he says. He- He was standing outside a row of houses, watching- watching Alex. Then he was here. And he hid under the desk. There’s no in-between. “I don’t…”

He should probably tell Officer Hussain about Alex, he realises. Alex was mean, and he pushed Jon down, but he- he’s- Mr. Spider- The legs-

There’s a spider crawling on the desk, crawling across one of the papers. Jon throws himself away from it, scrambling backwards until he’s pressed against the wall.

“Shit, what set him off?” Officer Hussain says.

Jon can’t look away from the spider. He can’t breathe properly, he just keeps- gasping, and his eyes are getting blurry, which means he can’t see where the spider is, and it might be getting bigger, might be stretching out it’s legs to eat him, and-

“The spider,” The man with the jumper says, “He doesn’t like them, I’ll just…” He comes forward, hands out on the desk, and the spider is crawling onto them, and-

Jon gulps at the air. He can’t seem to catch a full breath. The spider is- He can’t see- The man in the jumper has gone, somewhere, and- maybe the spider ate him, and- they’re all watching him, looking at him, and it feels so- He throws his arms up over his head, tries to get some control over his sniffing. His leg hurts.

“That’s a bit more than doesn’t like them,” Officer Hussain mutters.

“What do we do?” the laughing lady hisses. She’s not laughing anymore.

Tim sighs. “Have none of you interacted with a child before?” he asks, tone biting. He comes closer, around the desk, and crouches in front of Jon. Jon looks at him through his arms, back against the wall. “It’s OK, kid,” he says. “Spider’s gone.”

“It’s- It-“ Jon starts saying, but his breath keeps catching, not letting him speak.

“Martin took the spider away,” Tim tells him. He points at the desk, where it was and- it’s just paper. There aren’t- legs reaching out, or- fangs, or- it’s just paper. “It’s gone, pipsqueak, promise,” Tim says, lifting up the page to show him underneath.

“Not,” Jon says, still pressed against the wall. “N-Not a- not small.”

The corner of Tim’s lip goes up. “If you say so. You wanna come into the bathroom? We can get you cleaned up.”

Jon’s face is probably all blotchy and horrible. And he should- his leg is all covered in dirt and blood. It might get infected. He should put a plaster on it. He nods.

“Awesome,” Tim says, straightening up. “C’mon, it’s just down the hall.” He holds out his hand to Jon. Jon glares at him. It’s not his best glare, but Tim clutches his own chest, fake-staggering backwards, pulling a face like he’s been stabbed.

Jon tries not to smile, but it’s funny. Tim starts walking towards the door, hands in his pockets this time, and Jon trails afterward. Officer Hussain and the laughing lady are looking at Tim like he’s done something weird. Tim’s almost gone, and Jon hurries, catching up. His leg twinges at the motion.

The corridor outside the office is a bit dingy. There are fluorescent lights overhead, but some of them aren’t working properly. The walls are patchy, different shades of white slapped on in different areas, and cardboard boxes are stacked up against them, in piles taller than Jon. There aren’t any windows.

“Are we underground?” he asks Tim.

Tim glances back at him. “Yeah. We’re in the basement.” Tim pushes open a door, holding it for Jon.

“What’s in all the boxes?” Jon asks, peering at one.

“Old papers,” Tim says, screwing up his nose. “Boring stuff. C’mon.”

Jon goes through the door. It’s a bathroom, two stalls against one wall and two sinks set in a counter on the other. The tiles are a bit mucky, and there’s a mug with some toothbrushes in the middle of the sinks. “Why are there toothbrushes here?” he asks, tilting his head at them. The mug is stripy, blue and white.

“Full of questions, aren’t you?” Tim says. “I’ll tell you after you wash your face.”

“Uh-huh,” Jon says, looking at the sink. The counter comes up to the top of his chest. He steps up to it, goes on his tiptoes to reach for the tap. If he could get up onto the counter, it would be easier, but it’s quite tall, and he can’t-

“Want a boost?” Tim says.

Jon stares at the counter. “Yes,” he says. “But I’m not small,” he adds, glancing at Tim.

“Never said you were, kid.” Tim steps up behind him, bending down to wrap his hands around Jon’s ribs. He lifts Jon easily, though he makes a big puffing sound as if he’s working really hard. “Wow you’re heavy!” he says. “Bet your parents think you’re getting big really fast.”

Jon settles onto the counter. “My parents died when I was little,” he tells Tim. “They don’t think anything.” Tim’s face does a twisty thing at that, like a lot of adults when Jon tells them about his parents. Adults are weird about parents. Jon turns on the tap, splashes his face. He looks down at his leg, twisting it so he can see the cut properly. He could cup some water in his hands and splash it there, but it would be messy.

Tim hisses in sympathy. “That looks nasty,” he says. “You fight a shark or something?”

Jon looks up, frowning. “There aren’t any sharks in Bournemouth.” he tells Tim firmly.

Tim’s smiling again. “Alright. Not a shark then.” He reaches over and grabs some of the paper towels, holding them under the tap. “A tiger?”

Jon scowls. “There aren’t any tigers either!”

Tim laughs. “There might be,” he says. He uses the wet paper to wipe up the blood on Jon’s leg. It’s a bit cold. “Damn, you might need stitches. You’ll have a wicked scar.”

Jon frowns at his leg, alarmed. “A scar?” he says.

“Don’t worry, kid, everyone secretly thinks scars are cool,” Tim says, very serious. He’s wiping around the cut now, being really gentle. It still stings, a little, but Jon’s not a baby, so he doesn’t make a sound. “I’ve got loads of them,” Tim continues, “Trust me.”

“You think there’s tigers in Bournemouth,” Jon says doubtfully.

Tim taps his nose, winking. “You never know,” he says. He goes over to a box with a green cross on it, pulling out some gauze. “Well, if it wasn’t a tiger, what was it?”

Jon looks down. The cut is still bleeding, bright red blood pooling in it. “Alex pushed me,” Jon says quietly, his hands clenching around the edge of the counter. “He took the book, and pushed me down.”

“Oh,” Tim says. He presses the gauze against Jon’s leg, taping it down carefully. “You push him? Get your book back?”

Jon shivers. “I don’t want that book back,” he says angrily. “It’s- it’s- bad.

Tim glances at him, his hands stilling. “What was bad about the book?” he asks.

Jon wraps his arms around himself. He remembers- his legs moving on their own, pushing him up and carrying him somewhere, but it wasn’t important, because the words, the story, even if it was for babies, it filled his head, and he wasn’t even paying attention to anything until Alex-

Jon’s crying again, he realises. He reaches up, rubs his eyes angrily. “It was evil.” he says, and his voice cracks in the middle of the word. It’s not the right word. The book wasn’t like- the Wicked Witch, or Cruella De Ville, or- It was worse than that. It was real. It was worse.

“Kid,” Tim says, leaning over him to catch his eye. “Did the book have a sticker in it? A label?”

Jon nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Leitner. The- the library of Jurgen Leitner.”

“Jesus Christ,” Tim says, and he wraps Jon up in a hug.

Jon freezes, stiffening up. He only just met Tim, he doesn’t-

Tim backs off, grimacing. “Sorry, sorry,” he says. “Jesus. A Leitner- You were reading it?”

“It made me- I couldn’t stop,” Jon says, voice wobbling. “But, but Alex took it, and then it was him, and,” he can barely get the words out, and he hates it, “And, he got to the end, and Mr. Spider, from the book, he- he took Alex.” Jon looks up, “It only just happened, maybe we can- I-If I tell Officer Hussain, she could go and get him back-“

Tim’s face is grim. “Sorry kid,” he says. “People don’t come back from things like that.”

Jon stares at him. “But- The police, they could-“

“For a missing kid?” Tim runs a hand through his hair. “Maybe. But first you have to get them to believe you, and that’s…” His lips slant. “Hard.”

“But it’s true,” Jon says, “They have to believe it if it’s true.”

Tim’s face twists again. “Kid…” he says.

The door slams open, banging against the wall. It’s the lady with the colourful hair, with a scowl that puts Jon’s best one to shame. “We have a problem,” she says.

“Melanie,” Tim says, annoyed, “I’m kind of in the middle of-“

Bouchard is here.” Melanie says, spitting the name.

“Fuck,” Tim says. “Shit. He know about…” He trails off, nods towards Jon.

“Yep,” Melanie says, fists clenched by her sides. “Wants to see the kid.”

Tim looks at Jon. “Fuck,” he says again, with feeling. “Any way we can-“

“He’ll know. He always fucking knows,” Melanie spits. Jon flinches away at her tone.

Tim sighs. He looks at Jon, then reaches for another paper towel. He runs it under the tap. “Chin up, kid,” he says, reaching out to Jon’s face. Jon squirms away, but Tim darts forward, cool cloth swiping over his cheeks, under his eyes. “There you go,” he says. “C’mon, get off there,” he tells Jon, stepping backwards.

Jon pushes himself off the counter, landing with a small oof. Tim grabs for his hand almost as soon as his trainers touch the tiles, but Jon pulls back, slipping away.

“Where are we going?” Jon asks. His voice is croaky, so he clears his throat. “Who’s Bouchard?”

“He’s in charge, and a wanker,” Tim says. Melanie holds open the door, and Tim tilts his head towards it, waiting for Jon to move before he follows. “Don’t believe a word he says, OK?”

Jon wants to point out that he can’t exactly trust Tim to tell him who to believe, because Tim thought there were tigers in Bournemouth, but Melanie’s marching forward almost too fast for him to keep up, and he has to hurry after her. She slams open a door, striding in. It leads into another office, a bigger one, with three desks. Officer Hussain is leaning against the wall by the door. Melanie flops straight onto one of the chairs. She swings her legs pointedly up onto the surface of the desk, glaring at the man standing in the centre of the room. Officer Hussain is staring at him as well.

This must be Bouchard. Mr. Bouchard. He’s wearing a suit, dark grey and sharp, and a sea-green waistcoat. His smile is off, like he has a secret. His eyes are glued to Jon. They flick over him, up and down, assessing. It makes the hairs on the back of Jon’s neck prickle. There’s something wrong about the way they move.

“So here he is,” Mr. Bouchard says. “Our little Archivist.”

“He’s not your anything,” Tim says flatly, his hand tightening around Jon’s.

Mr. Bouchard says nothing. He keeps on smiling.

“I was just asking,” Officer Hussain says, her tone measured. “Whether Elias had any ideas about how Jon’s situation could be resolved.”

Mr. Bouchard’s eyes lift to her. “And, as I said, I will need to take a closer look at my patient to be sure of a prognosis.” His tone is dripping with smugness. “Bring him over here, Tim, if you please?”

Tim glances down at Jon, mouth slanted into an even, unhappy line. “Nah,” Tim says. “You can see him just fine from there.”

One of Mr. Bouchard’s perfect eyebrows lifts up. “Honestly. Must you always assume I have an ulterior motive?”

“Yeah,” Melanie says, arms crossed. “Because you always do.”

Mr. Bouchard’s shoulders roll into a fluid shrug. “I suppose. Nevertheless, I can’t tell you how to resolve the situation without determining a couple of things about young Jonathan.”

Jon doesn’t want to go closer to Mr. Bouchard. His eyes are wrong. Tim’s hand tightens around Jon’s, holding on.

Officer Hussain sighs. “Just let him look, Stoker,” she says. “Sooner we get this over with, sooner Jon gets back to normal.”

“I am normal,” Jon says, confused.

“Children,” Mr. Bouchard says, cutting through the room, “should speak only when spoken to.”

Jon falls silent. Mr. Bouchard’s eyes are looking at him again. “Come along now, Jonathan,” he says. Jon feels frozen in place.

Officer Hussain steps forward, grabbing Jon’s shoulder and marching him to the centre of the room. “Here he is,” she says, crossing her arms. “What do we do to fix him?”

“Hm.” Mr. Bouchard’s eyes flick over Jon, taking in the gauze on his leg, his stained shirt, his ratty trainers, the hole in the bottom of his shorts. Jon fights the urge to cross his arms, cover himself somehow. “How old are you?” he asks.

“I’m eight,” Jon says.

Mr. Bouchard walks behind him, and Jon turns his head to keep him in view. “Eyes front,” Mr. Bouchard tells him mildly. Jon looks forward. His heart is pounding in his throat. “Can you tell me what year it is, Jonathan?”

“Nineteen-ninety-six,” Jon tells him. Melanie makes a noise. Jon wants to glare at her, but Mr. Bouchard said Eyes front. Jon doesn’t know what will happen if he disobeys.

Mr. Bouchard has circled all the way back around, and Jon sees his mouth pull up into a smile. “Do you know anything about how you came to be in our Archives?”

“No,” Jon says. “I was there, and then I was just… here.”

“What do you think happened?” Mr. Bouchard asks, crouching down so his face is level with Jon’s.

This close, as Mr. Bouchard’s eyes flick over Jon’s face, he can tell what’s wrong with them. Mr. Bouchard’s eyes are moving, but- The rest of his face, the muscles around his eyes, they’re not moving at all. They’re slack, relaxed, even as his gaze bores into Jon.

“You took me,” Jon realises as he says it, heartbeat high in his throat. “Like- Like Mr. Spider took Alex. You took me.”

Mr. Bouchard’s eyes lock on Jon’s. They stare into him. Jon shivers under their weight, for- seconds? Minutes? Eventually, Mr. Bouchard straightens. “Interesting,” he says.

“So?” Officer Hussain says, breaking the spell of Mr. Bouchard’s gaze. “How do we fix it?”

Jon steps backwards, quickly, running for the door. Tim is in the way, though, and he must think Jon is running for him, because he crouches, arms snagging Jon around the chest, and lifts, holding Jon against him. Jon’s face is pressed against Tim’s shirt. He goes still. “It’s done,” Tim says quietly, hand smoothing over Jon’s hair. “It’s OK, kiddo, you did it, don’t worry.”

“Have the child give a statement about his recent experience,” Mr. Bouchard says. “Statements belong to the Archivist. It should call him forth, and then all will return as it should be.”

Thank you,” Officer Hussain says coldly, turning away from him.

“Best for Martin to take it, I think,” Mr. Bouchard continues. “He is the most experienced in-“

“Fuck off already,” Melanie groans, her boots thudding against the floor. “Stop pretending you give a shit, you’re-“

“Mind your language, Melanie,” Mr. Bouchard says, cold. “There is a child present.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re creepy, we get it,” Officer Hussain says flatly.

Footsteps. Jon tries to lift his head, see what’s going on, but Tim’s grip keeps his head down.

“Goodbye, Jonathan,” Mr. Bouchard says, closer than Jon was expecting. A cold hand brushes Jon‘s back, and he flinches away from it. “Children,” Mr. Bouchard mutters, amused. “So temperamental.”

“Get out,” Tim growls, the words vibrating against Jon’s cheek.

“I’m feeling distinctly unwelcome,” Mr. Bouchard remarks, voice fading as he heads to the door. “I hope you all aren’t treating the public like this.”

“Piss OFF,” Melanie yells, holding the ‘O’ until the door closes.

Jon wiggles free, pushing away from Tim’s chest so he can see the room. Mr. Bouchard is gone, and a knot in Jon’s chest loosens. Melanie is standing, glaring at the closed door, and Officer Hussain is looking right at him.

“Right,” she says, “I’ll get Martin.” She strides over to the door.

“We are not-“ Tim snarls, clutching Jon close again.

Officer Hussain turns back, eyes narrowing. “We’re not what, Tim? Getting our only chance against the Unknowing back? Getting your friend-”

Tim laughs sharply.

“Get over yourself,” Officer Hussain snaps. “That kid shouldn’t be here. We need Jon back, and we need him back now. We’re doing this.”

Melanie says, “Since when did we trust Elias Douc-

“Since his goals align with ours,” Officer Hussain says, cold. “You think he’s happy his pet Archivist is-“

“No,” Tim snarls, “No, he’s not happy, and isn’t that the whole point-“ and he’s squeezing Jon tighter around his waist and it hurts, it’s too much, he hates being held like this, and he barely knows Tim, why was he even letting him-

Jon lashes out, pushing away from Tim. “Let me go!” he yells.

Tim looks at him, surprised. “Jeez, kid-“

“Put me down!” Jon yells again, kicking, “You’re not going to get me, let me go!”

Tim half-drops him, Jon wiggling out of his hands halfway down. As soon as his trainers touch the ground, he bolts for the door.

Officer Hussain is in the way, and she crouches, reaching out a hand to grab him. He sees it coming toward his face and bites, hard, even though it tastes weird. She lets go, yelling, and he’s away, slipping through the door and out.

There’s a set of stairs at the end of the corridor. He runs for them, scrambling up, but as soon as he pulls the door to the ground floor he hears Mr. Bouchard’s smooth voice, echoing down the corridor. Jon stops. Mr Bouchard keeps talking, about appropriate workplace attire. His voice is very stern. A door bangs open down in the corridor, and Jon winces, looks around for a hiding space. Tim yells, “Hey, kid, what the fuck! Where are you?”

Jon pulls the door fully open, backing right up against the wall to hide behind it. It works in the films.

Footsteps pound up the steps. The door is very heavy. Jon grits his teeth, holding the door still with both hands. His palms are slippery with sweat. The footsteps go right through the door without even pausing.

Jon lets go of the door, shaking out his wrists, and hurries back down the stairs, careful to keep his steps quiet. The corridor is still empty, though loud voices echo into it from where the room he was just in. He passes that door, and the one to the bathroom. He can’t remember which one was the other office, so he just keeps going. Maybe there’s a fire escape in the last room. Or a better place to hide, at least. Jon is very good at hide-and-seek. The last door is propped open, and Jon slips inside.

It’s a little kitchen. There’s a humming kettle, and a sink, and a table against the wall, with a faded plastic tablecloth. Jon ducks under the table, squeezing between the chair legs until his back’s against the wall.

He curls up into a little ball, breathing short and fast. When he opens his eyes, he’ll be sitting by the sofa with a pile of books from the charity shop, and all of this will just have been a really bad dream. And, he’ll go to the park, and Alex will be there, and he won’t be mean, he’ll be nice, and maybe Jon could be friends with him, and there won’t be any more spiders, and-

The kettle’s bubbling gets louder, and there’s a loud click as it turns itself off. Jon squeezes tighter around his knees. It isn’t real. It isn’t real.

The door to the kitchen opens, and heavy footsteps come in. They pause, in the middle of the room. Jon presses back against the wall, breath hitching. They won’t find him. It isn’t real. He’s invisible. The footsteps start again. Jon breathes out. Water pours into a mug.

“Y’know,” someone says. A man. The man in the jumper, maybe, from the start. “I think we might have some instant hot chocolate somewhere in here.”

Jon doesn’t say anything. The man must be talking to himself. Jon’s not here.

Cupboard doors open and close. “Aha!” the man says. There’s the rattle of a cutlery drawer opening, then the clink of a spoon against a mug. Something pours, and the spoon clinks against the mug again. Stirring. “There we go. When I were a kid, hot chocolate always used to make me feel better.”

Jon doesn’t move. He turns his head so it’s sideways against the tops of his knees.

“I’ll just…” The voice fades off. There are footsteps again, getting closer, and Jon tenses. “I’ll leave this here, shall I?” There’s a soft clink, then chair legs scrape against the floor. The man is sitting at the table. “And now, I’m going to, um, do some work. And, if anyone needs anything, I’m right here.”

Above him, on the table, there’s the scratching of a pen against paper. Jon uncurls a little, shuffling away from where the man’s legs are. There’s a steaming mug on the floor. It has a picture on it. A cat. There’s a speech bubble that says ‘Meow!’.

Jon reaches out and takes it, cupping the mug in his hands. It smells like chocolate. He takes a sip, but it’s still too hot, scalding his tongue. Jon holds his mug close to his face, blowing on it to cool it down. His glasses steam up.

The door to the kitchen slams open with a bang. Jon jumps, hot liquid spilling over his hand. Tim storms in, snapping “Martin, you seen the kid? He ran off.”

Jon shrinks back, scowling. “I haven’t… seen him,” Martin says. “You want a cup of-“

“I don’t want tea,” Tim spits. “I want to know where that fucking-“

“Tim,” Martin says firmly. “Sit down.”

The other chair is pulled roughly out from under the table. The legs screech against the floor, and Jon winces at the sound. “Fine,” Tim says curtly, dropping into the chair.

“Great,” Martin says. “Lovely. Been a long day, huh?”

Tim grunts.

“Well,” Martin mutters, “I’ve had a long day.”

“You weren’t there for half of it,” Tim says. “You don’t get to moan about-“

“You think I wasn’t worrying?” Martin says, “You think I don’t-“ He pauses. Catches his breath. “I don’t do kids very well. Never have. That’s it.”

“You do Jon, though,” Tim says, and Jon frowns. “You should’ve been the one-“

Martin leans backwards in his chair, legs shifting apart. “What do you want me to say, Tim? Sorry? Sorry for- not being a parent? I didn’t sign up for this, it’s not my fault you started caring about him.”

“Someone should be looking out for the kid,” Tim says. “He’s eight, he can’t-“

“You’re doing a great job of that right now, aren’t you,” Martin observes.

“He ran off, it’s not my fault-“

“And why did he do that? What could’ve made him feel like he had to-“ Martin takes a deep breath. There’s a soft thud against the table, a mug being set down a little too hard. “I’m not going to fight with you, Tim. Not right now.”

“Really? Because you-“

“I’m not going to fight with you.” Martin says. He pushes away from the table, legs straightening, moving across the room to the door. “Jon’s under the table,” he says, and Jon jolts, stiffening. “You’re so desperate to look out for him, maybe pay attention next time.”

Tim’s hand appears at the side of the table, pushing the tablecloth up, and Jon scrambles to the other side, glasses falling down crooked on his nose.

He tries to bolt for the door, but before he can get it open more than a crack Tim leans over him, pressing his weight into the door, slamming it shut again.

Jon yanks at the handle, but it won’t budge. He turns around so his back is against the door, Tim leaning over him. “Let me out,” he says, glaring up at Tim.

“Jesus,” Tim says, breathless. “We’re not keeping you trapped!”

“You won’t let me go!” Jon yells up at him, fists clenching. “You’re gonna- do something, and then I’ll be gone, like Alex, and-“

“Whoa,” Tim says, “We’re not going to do anything!”

“But Mr. Bouchard-“

“Fuck him,” Tim says with feeling. He sighs. “Look, kiddo, I’m sorry.”

Jon blinks. Adults don’t say sorry to him. He’s meant to say sorry to them.

Tim slowly crouches down so he’s eye-to-eye to Jon. “I’m not going to hurt you, kid.” His eyes are big and brown. “I’m sorry for letting Elias anywhere near you. I’m not going to let him hurt you, or anyone else down here. You’re going to be OK.”

Jon’s gaze flicks between Tim’s eyes. “Will you let me go back to my grandmother?” he asks.

Tim grimaces. “I’ll see what I can do. But- It’s a bit complicated.”

“I’m smart,” Jon says, forehead furrowing. “What’s complicated?”

Tim pushes up off the floor. “OK. Let’s- C’mon, sit down with me. I’ll tell you.” He takes a slow step towards the table, waiting for Jon to follow.

Jon’s fingers brush against the door handle. He could go. But- Someone would catch him. Adults can run faster than him, and even if he hides, Tim will just find him again. He pushes off the door, striding over to the table. He crouches down for a second, picking up his hot chocolate, then hops up onto one of the seats.

Tim takes the other. “What’ve you got there?” he asks.

“Hot chocolate,” Jon says. He takes a sip, then he frowns at the mug. “Cold now,” he mutters darkly.

“Damn entropy,” Tim says, picking up one of the mugs on the table. “Bet my tea’s cold too.”

Jon doesn’t want to talk about tea. “Why won’t you let me go?” he asks Tim.

Tim takes a sip from his mug. He makes a face at it. “When Mr. Bouchard asked you what year it is, you said nineteen ninety-five, right?”

“Yeah,” Jon says, rolling his eyes. “Because that’s what year it is. Why won’t you-“

“That’s not what year it is. Not here, at least,” Tim says. He takes another gulp of tea. “Here, it’s twenty-fifteen.”

Jon blinks. “That’s rubbish,” he says. “There aren’t any flying cars or anything, it can’t be-“

Tim reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a square of black glass. He pushes a button on the side, and it lights up, like a TV, but flat, and tiny. “Wanna play Candy Crush?” Tim asks. “I think I still have it.” Jon watches with wide eyes as Tim taps at the glass, and the light changes, like he’s controlling it with his fingers. “There we go,” Tim says. He puts the thing on the table between them. The picture it’s showing is a colourful grid of sweets. “You match them up, see?” Tim says, and he taps something on the screen, and some of the sweets move. “Go on, have a go.”

Jon puts one finger on the edge of the thing, very quickly, then draws it back.

Tim huffs a laugh. “It’s a phone, kid, it’s not going to bite.”

“That’s not a phone,” Jon says, glancing up. Phones are plugged into the wall, and don’t show pictures, and have buttons for the numbers. The thing on the table is- Jon doesn’t know the word for it. It looks like something out of Star Wars.

“You believe you’re in the future now?” Tim asks.

Jon glances up at Tim’s face. “Fine,” Jon says. “You stole me to the future.”

Tim grimaces. “We didn’t steal you, kid.”

Jon’s eyes narrow. “Then why am I here?”

“It was- an accident.” Tim says, putting his mug down. “There was a mistake, and now you’re here.”

Jon glances down at the screen. It still has the sweets on it. It’s still like nothing he’s ever seen. “If you can take me, you can put me back,” he says.

“We’re trying.” Tim rubs at his forehead. “It’s complicated.”

“You have to put me back,” Jon says. “You have to. My grandmother, she’ll…” He trails off, throat closing around the words. His grandmother will be annoyed. He’s been gone for the whole day. She’ll pinch his ear, and tell him he’s making her older every day, and send him up to his room. Then, later, she’ll tuck him into bed, and kiss his forehead, and he’ll go to sleep, and all of it will be forgotten in the morning. He wants that, suddenly, the routine where he says the things he always says and his grandmother says the things she always says and it’s all gone in the morning.

“Hey,” Tim says. He reaches out, puts his hand over Jon’s, on his mug. “We’ll figure it out.”

Jon puts the mug down on the table, drawing away from Tim’s hands. He looks at the cat on it. He likes cats. There’s one that lives on the street on his way to school, and sometimes it lets him close enough to pet it. “Mr. Bouchard,” Jon says, and Tim frowns. “He said I should give a statement. About the spider, and Alex. Then everything goes back to normal. Does that mean I go back?”

Tim’s lips are pursed. “Mr. Bouchard lies,” he says. “You can’t trust him.”

Jon leans forward. Tim didn’t say no. “But it could work?”

“You don’t- A statement is…”

“I know what it is,” Jon says, rolling his eyes. His grandmother is always watching Morse and Poirot. “You give them to the police, when you’re a witness. You say what happened, and they write it down.”

Tim lifts a hand, rubbing his eyes. “It’s different, here,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to- You’ve been through enough today.”

“I’m not a baby,” Jon says, tipping his chin up. “I can do it. And,” he looks down, licks his lips. “I’ll have to give one anyway. To the police. This can be practice.”

Tim looks at him. “You’re still gonna go to the police?”

Jon looks down, scuffing his trainer against the tiles. “Alex is gone.” he says. “The police will be looking for him. I should tell them what I saw, so they know where to look.”

“Kid, they won’t believe you,” Tim says softly.

“But it’s true,” Jon says, looking up. “I saw it. They have to believe me, because it’s true.”

Tim sighs. He stands up, pushing his chair back. “Let’s go and see if the others have found anything, yeah?” He holds out his hand to Jon.

“They will believe me,” Jon mutters. He takes Tim’s hand, walking with him. “And I’m going to do a statement.”

“We’ll find another way. A better way.” Tim reaches for the kitchen door handle, then pauses. He glances down at Jon. “You gonna run off again, kid?”

Jon considers. “Maybe,” he says.

Tim snorts, a wry smile twisting his mouth. “OK then,” he says. “A little warning would be nice, next time.”

“That kinda ruins the whole point of running off,” Jon tells him, frowning.

Tim laughs at that. “Alright then, keep your secrets,” he says in a funny tone, and pulls open the kitchen door.

They walk out back into the corridor with all the boxes. Tim pauses outside the big office. Someone is snarling loudly about a toothy little shit.

“How about you wait in the Archivist’s office,” Tim tells Jon quickly, pushing him gently to the side. “Next door, it’s open.” Jon rolls his eyes, but goes. The door has a nameplate, but it’s up too high for Jon to read it properly, so he just pushes it open.

It’s the same office Jon was in when all this started. Martin is here, too, sitting on a sofa in the corner. The rest of the sofa is covered in piles of paper, even though there’s a big filing cabinet in the corner. “Oh, hello,” Martin says.

“Hi,” Jon says. He looks around for somewhere to sit. There’s a big chair behind the desk, but he probably shouldn’t take that one.

Martin jumps up. “Oh, you can,” he says, gesturing to the space on the sofa.

“Thank you,” Jon says, sitting down. There’s enough room to curl his legs up onto the seat, so he does. The sofa isn’t very comfy.

Martin’s left standing in the middle of the room. He looks around, then, glancing at Jon, leans against the side of the cluttered desk. A couple of papers slip off one of the stacks.

“So, um.” Martin says. His hands flutter about, tapping the edge of the desk, then ducking into his pockets. He’s staring at Jon, a little. “Hows… school?”

Jon shrugs. “Fine.”

Martin nods. “Good!” he says, “That’s, um. That’s good.”

The gauze on Jon’s leg itches. He pokes at it. It hurts, a jab of pain, and he hisses.

“Oh, don’t touch it,” Martin says belatedly. “Careful, it could get infected.”

Jon wrinkles his nose. “It’s itchy,” he says, voice dire.

“Well, yeah, that’s because it’s healing,” Martin tells him. “You need to leave it alone so it can heal properly.”

Jon leans backward, sinking into the sofa. His leg is still really itchy. He crosses his arms. “This is stupid,” he complains. “Just do the statement thing and send me back already.”

“Sorry,” Martin says, “What?”

Jon flaps a hand at him. “Like Mr. Bouchard said.” He does an impression, droning in a low tone. “Children are annoying. Bleh bleh bleh. Take the child’s statement and- everything will be good. Blah blah Martin.

Martin’s eyes go wide. “He said that I need to take your statement?”

“Something like that,” Jon says, shrugging. “There was a bit about an Archivist coming back.”

Martin says “Right!” tone weirdly high, “So I just do the whole- la di la, Statement Begins, and- you’re back to normal. Just like that?”

The door opens. “Hey kiddo,” Tim says, walking in. “The others haven’t found anything yet, but- Oh. Martin.”

“Hey Tim,” Martin says pleasantly. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me I just have to take Jon’s statement to get him better?”

“Er,” Tim says. He shuts the door behind him. “We’re not doing that, though, we’re finding another-“

“Why not?” Martin asks, voice still high-pitched. “Exactly?”

Tim folds his arms. “Because we don’t take statements from children?

Martin rolls his eyes. “Oh come on, it’s not like it’s going to-“

“You’ve given one, it’s not just-“

“He’s not even meant to be like this. We can fix it! Just like that, I can-“

“By traumatizing a child-“

“Just do it already!” Jon yells, pushing up to his feet. “I want to go home, I don’t care if it hurts, just get it over with.”

Tim and Martin stare at him, their chests heaving.

“See?” Martin says, looking back at Tim. “He wants us to do it.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s asking for,” Tim says through gritted teeth.

“I’m asking to go home,” Jon tells him. He turns to Martin. “Can you do it? The statement?”

Martin looks down at him. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ve been reading them, and I think- Yeah I can.”

“Do it, then,” Jon tells him, jutting his jaw out. Bracing for the hurt.

Martin bites his lip. “I’ll need- is there a tape recorder around?”

Jon looks around. There are just- papers, everywhere.

“We’re not doing this,” Tim says.

Jon ignores him. “Is it a special time travel one?” he asks to Martin.

Martin’s eyebrows go up. “No, just- Well, not normal- a standard tape recorder. Let me…” Martin closes his eyes, listening for a second. “There… isn’t one in here,” he says, surprised. “Give me a second, there’s one in my desk.”

Tim makes a face at Martin’s back as he leaves, but as soon as the door closes he’s back on Jon. “Kid,” he starts.

“I’m doing this,” Jon tells him, arms folded.

Tim looks up at the ceiling. “You don’t have to. We can find another-“

“Or,” Jon tells him, “we can just do this way. And it’s quicker.”

Tim makes a strangled sound, throwing his arms up. “Fine! Fine, do it your way. Just don’t expect me to-”

Tim turns to the door, reaching for the handle, and Jon’s heart jumps into his throat. He must make a noise, because Tim stops moving, and looks at him.

“Are you scared?” Tim asks Jon, softly.

“No,” Jon says. Too quickly.

Tim sighs. “OK,” he says. He drops the door handle, flopping onto the sofa. “Jeez, this thing is uncomfortable.”

Jon stands in the middle of the room, fists clenched by his sides. “I’m not scared,” he tells Tim. “It’s just going home. Even if it hurts, I’m not a baby, it doesn’t-“

“It’s OK, kid,” Tim says, not looking at him. “Everyone gets scared. And it won’t hurt.”

“But you said-“

“Don’t worry about it,” Tim says. “Hey, go sit in the big chair.”

Jon looks at the chair behind the desk. It is big. “But what about the- the guy whose office this is, won’t he-“

“He’s not around,” Tim says, waving a hand. “C’mon, I want to get pictures.”

Jon edges around the desk, clambering up onto the chair. He grabs the edge of the desk, pulling himself closer. “This chair isn’t comfy too,” he tells Tim.

“Knew it,” Tim mutters. He’s pulling the thing, the future ‘phone’, out of his pocket. “Can you- I don’t know, look at the papers or something.”

There are lots of bits of paper on the desk. Jon leans in, scanning them. Some are forms, filled out by lots of different people’s handwriting. Something clicks, from Tim’s direction. Jon doesn’t look up. A few of the sheets are papers torn out of a notebook, covered in the same messy handwriting, lots of arrows and scribbles and lists. “What’s flensing?” he asks, tilting his head to read the word better.

Tim looks up quickly. “Nothing,” he says.

“I just want to know what-“

“It’s- a legal thing.” Tim tells him. “ Like taxes.”

“Urgh,” Jon says, wrinkling his nose. “Taxes are boring.”

“Damn right they are,” Tim says approvingly. He lifts the phone, and there’s another click. Like a camera shutter.

“Is that thing a camera too?” Jon asks, his head tilting.

Martin opens the door, stepping inside. He raises an eyebrow at Tim, who shrugs, slipping the phone-camera-thing back into his pocket.

Martin rolls his eyes. He puts the tape recorder he’s carrying down on the desk. It’s a simple one, just a slot for the tape and a speaker and a microphone. It doesn’t look magic, or future-y, or anything. It’s just a tape recorder. There’s a blank tape already inside, waiting. “Ready?” Martin asks Jon.

Jon puts the paper down. “Yeah,” he says quietly.

Tim gives the recorder a glare. Then he looks at Jon, and his eyes soften. “It’ll be OK, kid,” he says.

Jon gives him a weak smile.

Martin pushes in one of the buttons on the tape recorder. The reels of the tape start spinning.

“Martin Blackwood, Archival Assistant at the Magnus Institute, recording the live statement of Jonathan Sims,” Martin says clearly, leaning over the desk. “Concerning his encounter with a book from the library of Jurgen Leitner.” He pauses, wetting his lips, and looks at Jon. The hairs on the back of Jon’s neck prickle. “Statement begins.”

Jon opens his mouth, and words come out. “Gertrude Robinson was a careful woman,” he says. On the other side of the desk, Tim frowns. “She took risks, of course, but those risks were always calculated. The books collected by her late acquaintance, Jurgen Leitner, were in their nature risky. However, their powers, and those they granted upon their readers, could be useful to Gertrude, useful enough that they were worth the risk.

“The ability of the book we are concerned with, the power to return it’s reader to the moment they first encountered the supernatural, was very useful to Gertrude. She… liberated the book from it’s previous owner, a hapless collector, in 2003. She had heard tell of it’s ability, and wished to know if it could be controlled. It could, in the end, as she discovered through testing her method on an assistant.

“Gertrude used the book mainly to gather information. In certain areas a young woman can find out more than an old one. Her own first encounter occurred when she was twenty-one, a brush with the Desolation that left her angry more than scared, and willing to do anything to get back at the Powers. Perfect for Gertrude’s purposes. She left instructions for her past self, then read a paragraph from the book. Her past self, pragmatic and enraged, would find the instructions, labelled as an orchestration of her revenge, and obey them. Once whatever task Gertrude had set herself was completed, she instructed her past self to record her experiences. This called forth the Archivist from within the young woman, the elder re-emerging with the new information she’d acquired. The risk was planned, considered, and taken without pause, but only when absolutely necessary.

“I found the book whilst clearing through the old filing cabinet in my office. Gertrude’s filing system- well, left much to be desired. The best method I found was to empty the drawers one at a time, sifting through the statements for information on the Stranger. I’d had little luck, most of the content of the filing cabinet being either false or irrelevant, but, once the drawers were empty, I noticed something. There was a difference between the depth of the drawer from the outside, and the depth from the inside. Only a slight difference, and one very easy to miss. Opening the false bottom was simple enough, once the files were removed, and revealed a single book. The slightly lurid title and cover art threw me off, and I picked it up without thinking, flipping to the back cover. The book fell open to a certain page, clearly one Gertrude had revisited, and my eyes caught on a marked paragraph.

“I dropped the book quickly, but not quickly enough, and it’s effects began to take hold, returning me to my own first encounter. Calling the power and presence of the Archivist forward, as this statement has done, has returned me to my natural age. I will record any follow-up investigations after consulting with my team.

“Statement ends,” Jon says, and the tape recorder obediently clicks off.

He lifts his hand to his face, turning it, examining it’s broad span. The warped, half-healed burn. He brushes his own cheek, feeling stubble prickle against the inside of his wrist. His fingers hook briefly into his hair, tugged back into a rubber band. He clears his throat.

“Well,” Jon says, “I’m back.”

Tim stands, too quickly, bolting upward. He stares at Jon for a second, chest heaving, then turns, pulling the door open roughly.

Jon pushes to his feet, wobbling a little without his cane. “Tim, wait,” he says.

The door slams.

Jon lurches to a stop, leaning heavily against his desk. He never gets it right, with Tim. Is it best to give him time to cool off, or go after him, or ignore it, or…

“Are you alright?” Martin asks, leaning forward.

“Yes, yes, all fine,” Jon tells him, falling back into his chair. “Apart from, well, the usual. Any idea where my cane got to?”

Martin looks around. “I think I spotted it- Aha!” He bends over, picks up Jon’s cane from beside the filing cabinet. “Must’ve dropped it when you, um. Got smaller.”

Jon grunts in agreement, taking his cane back and propping it by his desk.

Martin bites his lip, dawdling. “Are you sure you’re-“

“I’m fine, Martin,” Jon says. Too quickly. Wrong tone. Martin’s face falls. “Embarrassed, more than anything,” Jon adds, ducking his head.

“Don’t be,” Martin says, eyes crinkling at the corners. “You were- quite sweet, really, it was fine.”

Jon looks at him, doubtful. “I bit Basira.”

“You what?” Martin says, smile only widening. “Oh my god, how did that happen?”

Jon feels the corner of his mouth rising. “Well, I thought I’d been kidnapped, and she tried to grab me, and- it just.” He gestures vaguely. “Happened.”

“Oh my god,” Martin repeats, laughing. He looks nice when he laughs. Martin’s been through a lot, they all have, and- He should laugh more. Martin spends too much time looking after them all, and not enough time laughing.

He’d looked after Jon. “Thank you for the hot chocolate,” Jon says.

Martin shrugs, eyes crinkling again. “It was nothing. Tim was the one mostly, uh.” He trails off.

“Babysitting?” Jon suggests, angling for another laugh.

Martin does smile, but it’s tighter, this time. Jon frowns. “Yeah,” Martin says. “He was a little, um. Protective.”

Jon tilts his head, running over the order of events. “Lost orphans tend to play on the heartstrings, I suppose,” he guesses. He’s read a story or two like that. Crying child on the street, someone steps in to investigate.

Martin winces. “Well, yeah. And he um. His brother was younger. Than him. By a while, so he probably, has some associations, y’know, with the whole childcare thing.”

Jon frowns. “Ah.”

“Yeah,” Martin says, grimacing. “Maybe go talk to him?”

There’s a moment. Martin looks at Jon like he’s expecting something. “Should I- Now?” Jon asks, because Tim had got out of here very quickly, and Jon doesn’t think-

“Yeah,” Martin says again, pushing to his feet. “I’ll… make you some tea. Tell the others you’re back to normal.”

“Maybe get Basira a bandage,” Jon tells him. “Eight-year-olds are known for their bite force.”

That gets him a flash of a smile as Martin opens the door. “Try and be nice to Tim, yeah? Maybe you could…” Martin shrugs. “Rebuild some bridges? Just- Give it a go.” With that, Martin ducks behind the door, escaping.

“Hmm,” Jon says to himself. It’s a possibility, if a remote one. He picks up his cane, levering himself up.

He finds Tim in the bathroom, of all places. He’s braced himself on the counter, staring into the mirror, muscles standing out in his arms and back.

Jon’s eyes settle on the counter. The in-between space, beside the sinks. “You were right,” he says. That’s being nice, isn’t it?

Tim looks up. “What?” he says, viciously blank.

“You were right,“ Jon repeats. He looks away, props his shoulder against the wall by the door. “I still have the scar. On my leg.”

Tim doesn’t say anything.

“Didn’t heal for ages,” Jon reminisces. “I kept picking at it. I bled on the sofa, even, stained it. My grandmother was-“

“Shut up,” Tim says, voice hoarse.

Jon closes his mouth. In the mirror, Tim’s eyes are closed, face screwed up. He looks angry. And- other things as well, maybe, but Jon’s not good at faces.

“What happened?” Tim asks, abruptly. “With the other kid, the bully.”

“Nothing,” Jon says. “Police closed the case. No leads.”

“No one believed you,” Tim says, flat, staring at the sink.

Jon scoffs. “Of course not. I didn’t have a scrap of evidence, I was an eight-year-old with a history of running off, and besides, I barely knew what I was talking-“

“You were terrified,” Tim says.

“No one cared about that,” Jon says, rolling his eyes, and Tim slams a hand into the counter.

“They should have cared!” Tim yells, fingers clawing into the sink. “Someone should have-“

“It was decades ago, it doesn’t-“ Jon throws back, tensing.

“You deserved better than that,” Tim says. He pushes off the counter, strides right past Jon, aiming for the door.

“What do you care?” Jon says after him, and it comes out louder than he wanted it too. “You hate me! You think-“

“I think you’re a fucking prick,” Tim snarls, whirling around to face Jon, too close. “You’re a monster, and an idiot, and you’re going to get us killed.

Jon doesn’t say anything. His hands are clenched in fists by his sides, his jaw clenched. So much for being nice.

“But,” Tim says. “You were eight.” His face twists. “You were a kid. You deserved better.”

Jon swallows. He opens his mouth. Closes it. Tim turns away. He opens the door, stepping out into the corridor. “I was a deeply annoying child,” Jon gets out.

“I don’t care,” Tim says. He doesn’t look back, and the door swings closed behind him.

Jon buries his head in his hands. He doesn’t know why- He’s gone through much worse, since. Prentiss alone is enough to eclipse his stupid childhood mistakes. His, his childhood… misadventures. Follies.

A memory hits. The fluorescent lights of the police station, too bright after the dark streets. The tone of the desk sergeant, sickly-sweet sympathy. Sitting curled into a ball on a chair in the waiting room, grappling with- with frustration, he’d told himself at the time, anger no one was listening, no one could see. And even when his grandmother came to collect him, she didn’t believe a word he said, and it had felt like...

Jon wrenches his mind away. He walks down the corridor, retreating back into his office. Martin is gone, but there’s a steaming mug in the centre of his desk.

Jon sits down, propping his cane against the desk again, and pulls his stack of papers close. Work. There is an apocalypse on, after all. He needs to get back to work, he’s lost the whole afternoon. He lifts the mug to put it out of the way, then stops.

The contents of the mug smell like chocolate.

He doesn’t know why this is the- the thing that- His hands are shaking. He wraps both of them around the hot chocolate, stabilising it, careful not to spill it on the statements. Something twinges in the back of his head- A bad idea, probably. He leans down, puts the mug on the floor. Can’t hurt to try.

He slips off his desk chair, lowering carefully to the ground, and folds himself into the small space underneath his desk.

He doesn’t fit very well. His legs spill out over the base of his chair, bad one twinging until he prods it into submission. His neck is at a frankly unfortunate angle, and it’s best not to even start thinking about his back. But.

There’s something, about being surrounded. The smell is- dust and feet and dark wood, and chocolate from the mug he’s picked back up, and it goes straight to his hindbrain, and says safe.

He slowly takes a sip from the mug. It’s perfect.